Kharijites (Arabic unicode|Khawārij خوارج, literally "Those who Went Out" [ [ "Schisms and Heterodoxy among the Muslims", hosted on] ] ) is a general term embracing various Muslims who, while initially supporting the caliphate of the fourth and final "Rightly Guided" caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, later rejected him. They first emerged in the late 7th century AD, concentrated in today's southern Iraq, and are distinct from the Sunnis and Shiites.

Whereas the Shiites believed that the "imamate" (leadership) was the sole right of the house of Ali, the Kharijites insisted that any pious and able Muslim could be a leader of the Muslim community. And whereas the Sunnis believed that the imam's impiousness did not, by itself, justify sedition, the Kharijites insisted on the right to revolt against any ruler who deviated from the example of the Prophet Muhammad and the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar. From this essentially political position, the Kharijites developed a variety of theological and legal doctrines that further set them apart from both Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Kharijites were also known historically as the "Shurat", meaning "those who have sold their souls to God", which, unlike the term "Kharijite", was one that many Kharijites used to describe themselves. The only surviving group, the Ibāḍī of Oman, Zanzibar and North Africa, reject the "Kharijite" appellation and refer to themselves as "ahl al-'adl wal istiqama" ("people of justice and uprightness"). One of the early Kharijite groups was the Harūriyya; it was notable for many reasons, among which was its ruling on the permissibility of women Imāms and that a Harūrī was the assassin of ‘Alī.


The origin of Kharijism lies in the first Islamic civil war: a struggle for political supremacy over the Muslim community in the years following the death of Muhammad. The third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, was killed by mutineers in AD 656, and a struggle for succession ensued between Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and Muāwiyah, governor of Damascus and cousin of Uthman. According to John Esposito, they were the first radical dissenters in Islam who combined "a rigorous puritanism and religious fundamentalism with an exclusivist egalitarianism."Esposito, "Islam the Straight Path," pp. 43-45.]

In 657, Alī's forces met Muāwiyah's at the Battle of Siffin. Initially, the battle went against Muāwiyah. On the brink of defeat, Muāwiyah directed his army to hoist Qur'āns on their lances. [cite book
title='A Short History of the Saracens'
edition= 13th Edition
publisher=Macmillan and Company
location=London 1961
pages=p. 51
quote="He (Muawiyah) made his mercenaries tie copies of the Koran to their lances and flags, and shout for quarter."
] This initiated discord among some of those who were in Alī's army. Muāwiyah wanted to put the dispute between the two sides to arbitration in accordance with the Quran. A group of Alī's army mutinied, demanding that Alī agree to Muāwiyah's proposal. As a result, Alī reluctantly presented his own representative for arbitration. The mutineers, however, put forward Abu Musa al-Ash'ari against Alī's wishes. Muāwiyah put forward Amr Ibn Al-As. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari was convinced by Amr to pronounce Alī's removal as caliph even though Ali's caliphate was not meant to be the issue of concern in the arbitration. The mutineers saw the turn of events as a fundamental betrayal of principle, especially since they had initiated it; a large group of them (traditionally believed to be 12,000, mainly from Banu Hanifah and Banu Tamim tribes)Fact|date=June 2007repudiated Alī. Citing the verse, "No rule but God's," an indication that a caliph is not a representative of God, this group turned on both Alī and Muāwiya, opposing Muāwiya's rebellion against one they considered to be the rightful caliph, and opposing ˤAlī's subjecting his legitimate authority to arbitration. They became known as Kharijites: Arabic plural khawārij, singular "Khārijī", derived from the verb "kharaja" "come out, leave the fold."

ˤAlī quickly divided his troops and ordered them to catch the dissenters before they could reach major cities and disperse among the population.Fact|date=February 2007 Ali's cousin, Abdullah ibn Abbas, managed to persuade a number of Kharijites to return to Alī.Fact|date=February 2007 ˤAlī defeated the remaining rebels in the Battle of Nahrawan in 658 but some Kharijites survived and, in 661, ultimately assassinated Alī. They are said to have organized simultaneous attempts against Muāwiya and Amr as well, as the three men were in their view the main sources of strife within the Muslim community, but were only successful in assassinating Ali.Fact|date=February 2007


Al-Shahrastani defines a Khariji as:

Anyone who walks out against (seeking to overthrow) the true appointed Imam (leader) upon whose leadership the Jamaa'ah is in agreement is called a Khariji. This is the case, despite whether the walking out (against the Imam) occurred in the days of the Rightly-Guided caliphs or other than them from the Tabi'een [ [ Khawaarij] ] .
Some of the Salaf used to call all those who practiced Islam based upon their desires as Kharijite.

Beliefs and practices

Kharijite theology was a form of radical extremism, preaching uncompromising observance of the teachings of the Qur'an in defiance of corrupt authorities.Fact|date=February 2007 They preached absolute equality of the faithful, in opposition to the aristocracy of the Quraysh which had grown more pronounced under the Umayyad Caliphate.Fact|date=February 2007 They spread their views by violent conflict, which they considered to be a righteous jihad (struggle) and the sixth pillar of Islam.Fact|date=February 2007

They believed that anybody who commits a grave sin is no longer a Muslim and is subject to excommunication, warfare and death unless the person repents. They believed that the leader of the Muslim community can be any good Muslim, even a slave, provided he has the community's support, in contrast to the dominant opinion among Muslims at the time that the ruler should be a member of Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh. Having a strong emphasis on the need to depose unjust rulers and believing that the current leaders of the Muslim community were guilty of grave sins, they withdrew themselves from the rest of the Muslim community, started camping together and waged war against their perceived enemies. They believed that they are the people of God fighting against the people of evil. Esposito, Islam the straight path, p. 43 ]


The Kharijites were the first sect to appear in the history of Islam, splitting up into more than 20 different sub-sects. However, the major sub-sects of the Kharijites are seven:
* al-Mahkamah al-Oolaa;
* al-Azaariqah (Azraqī);
* an-Najdaat;
* ath-Thu'aalabah;
* al-'Ajaaridah;
* al-Abaadhiyyah (Ibādī);
* as-Safriyyah

Some of the other sub-sects include:
* al-Ibaathiyyah;
* ash-Shamraakhiyyah;
* as-Salaydiyyah;
* as-Sirriyyah;
* al-'Azriyyah;
* al-'Ajradiyyah;
* ash-Shakkiyyah;
* al-Fadhaliyyah;
* al-Hamas
* al-Bayhasiyyah;
* al-'Atwiyyah;
* al-Fadeekiyyah;
* al-Ja'diyyah;
* ash-Shaybiyyah;
* al-Hurooriyyah;
* al-Khamariyyah;
* ash-Sharaah.


The most extreme were the "Azraqīs" or "Azariqah", founded in Persia in 685 by transl|sem|Nāfiʿ ibn ul-Azraq. These pronounced "Takfir" on all other Muslims, considering them to be "Kuffar" ('unbelievers') who could be killed with impunity. [ [ al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] [ [ - Studies in ibadhism ] ] Their distinctive practices included:
* A test of sincerity (إمتحان "ArabDIN|imtiḥān" "examination") required of each new recruit, in which the neophyte was required to cut the throat of a captive enemy.Fact|date=February 2007
* Religious murder (إستعراض "ArabDIN|istiʿrāḍ" "demonstration"), not only of men, but also of their wives and children (the killing of moslem non-combatants is disallowed in Islam: Islamic military jurisprudence)

They regarded the territory occupied by other Muslims as part of Dar al-Kufr,Fact|date=June 2007the territory of unbelief where it was permitted to attack both people and goods - but also a territory from which one must exile oneself, as Muhammad had exiled himself from Mecca to escape the unbelievers there.Fact|date=February 2007


Less brutal was the Sufri sect, founded by Ziyād ibnu l-Asfar in an environment hostile to Kharijism.Fact|date=February 2007 These condemned political murder, adhered the practice of taqiyya,Fact|date=February 2007 and rejected the massacre of the unbelievers' children.Fact|date=February 2007 They considered Sura 12 to be not truly part of the Qur'an.Fact|date=February 2007


The Najdat were the followers of Najdah ibn 'Amir, of Bani Hanifa, who established a Kharijite state in al-Yamamah (east-central Arabia). Like the Sufris, Najdah had split from the Azraqi movement over the issues of the killing of the enemy's women and children and over the status of those who refuse to join in battle, as the Azraqis believed that whoever stayed behind had become an unbeliever.


A third sect, the Ibādīs, developed further than the others. Founded by ˤAbdullāh ibn-Ibād, they maintained attitudes of political intransigence and moral rigor.Fact|date=February 2007 They were, however, more flexible in their dealings with other Muslims - for example, they would not attack without first extending an invitation to join.Fact|date=February 2007


The branch founded by Habib ibn-Yazīd al-Harūrī held that it was permissible to entrust the imamate to a woman if she was able to carry out the required duties.Fact|date=February 2007 The founder's wife, Ghazāla al-Harūriyya, commanded troops; in this she followed the example of Juwayriyya, daughter of Abu Sufyan, at the battle of Yarmuk. In one battle, she put the famous Umayyad general Hajjāj ibn-Yūsuf to flight.Fact|date=February 2007


The high point of the Kharijites' influence was in the years 690-730 around Basra in south Iraq, which was always a center of Sunni theology. Kharijite ideology was a popular creed for rebels against the officially Sunni Caliphate, inspiring breakaway states and rebellions (like Maysara's) throughout the Maghrib and sometimes elsewhere.

The Azraqī revolted against the Caliphate in 685 after separating from the Ibādī near Basra and departing for Fars. They were suppressed by Abd al-Malik's armies, under the command of Amir al-Hajjaj; their leader was killed, and by 699 they had vanished. Another revolt occurred in 695; Sunni traditions underline the massacre of Muslims at a mosque in Kufa as an example of Kharijite fury and brutality. Agitations such as these fatally weakened the Ummayad caliphate and paved the way for its overthrow by the Abbasids.

During this period, the Najdat, led by Najdah ibn 'Amir, established a state in al-Yamamah, in central Arabia, and annexed the eastern Arabian region of Bahrayn, including al-Qatif. Najdah also moved westwards and captured the city of Taif, south of Mecca, and was only dissuaded from taking Mecca and Medina by Abdullah ibn Umar, the son of the second Muslim caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was particularly revered by the Kharijites. Najdah was assassinated by some of his followers in 692, and the Najdat movement quickly disintegrated thereafter.

From the beginning of the Arab conquest of the Maghreb, the Kharijites sent representatives to join the local Berber population. The Berbers, used to a communal system of government and opposed to Arab domination, found in Kharijism an ideological framework for rebellion. In the last years of the Umayyad dynasty, the western part of the Islamic empire escaped from the central authority; Spain came under the rule of the Umayyad emirs of Cordoba, while several independent states were founded in the Maghrib.

A Sufrī community from southern Tunisia captured Kairouan in 755, at the price of fearful . The Ibādī of Jebel Nafusa, outraged by the excesses of their rival sect, took the city and wiped out its Sufrī population. They proclaimed an imamate c. 757, founding a state which would cover parts of Tripolitania and Ifriqiya before it was conquered by Abbasid armies in 761. Among the leaders of this state was Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rustam, a Persian convert who would later found the Rustamid dynasty at Tahert.

Around the same time, a Sufri kingdom was founded in Tlemcen (western Algeria). Berber Sufrī from the tribe of Meknasa established the Midrarid state at Sijilmassa on the eastern slope of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Abū Qurra, a Sufrī of the Ifren tribe of Tlemcen, reconquered Ifriqiya from the Arabs in 771.

The region stabilized in 778, when ibn Rustam made a peace treaty with the Abbasid governor of Kairouan, and remained so until the arrival of the Fatimids in 909.

Modern times

The Ibadis have survived into the present day, though they now reject the designation "Kharijite". They form a significant part of the population of Oman (where they first settled in 686), and there are smaller concentrations of them in the Mzab of Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, Jebel Nafusa in Libya, and Zanzibar.

In modern times, Muslim scholars and governments have called terrorist groups which emphasize the practice of Takfir and justify the killing of innocent people as the new Kharijites; notable examples of groups described as such include the Groupe Islamique Armé of Algeria and the Takfir wal-Hijra group of Egypt.


Further reading

*J J Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam, Routledge (UK), 1 October 1972 ISBN 0-415-05914-3

External links

* [ Imam Wahab ibn Munabih's (d.110 AH/728 CE) Advice to the Khawarij]
* [ Salafi Publications. Refutations by the leading Sunni scholars against the Khawarij rebels, past and present. Under heading "Deviated Sects".]
* [] Contemporary Islamic scholars who oppose and refute the Kharijites of the modern-day. (Under Articles)
* [ Refuting the Doubts of the People of Takfeer and Bombing]
* [ Extremism in Takfeer]
* [ Ibadhi Islam site]
* [ The Kharijites and Their Impact on Contemporary Islam]
* [ Who are the Khawaarij?]
* [ Hermeneutics of Takfir]
* [ Political Thought in Islam by Sir Muhammad Iqbal]
* [ Hadith collection regarding Kharijites and Haruriyah]

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